Sounds like a ridiculous question right ? But to an urban middle-class family in India, it is an extremely difficult one. If I were a parent in India today and my child had such potential, I would still insist that he/she study hard. This is because in India, choosing the sports route can either bring unnecessary riches 😉 or utter anonymity 😦 . The state does not heavily support athletes (which it should not in a country where almost half the kids are malnourished) and there is virtually no safety net outside sports for athletes.
If you did some more research on Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who won many medals at the Olympics, you might find something startling. Between 2004 and 2008, Phelps attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one of the finest universities in the world. He obtained a degree in sports marketing and management. If some tragedy were to befall his athletic career he would have no trouble finding a job in America. Similar things can be said about almost all American athletes, they are graduates of some big university like the University of California, Texas, Oregon etc etc, they have a job-worthy degree if things go wrong.
So what happens to a promising Indian swimmer at age 17. She faces the most gruelling, toughest year of her life, because at the end of it are 5 or 6 three hour exams that will probably decide whether she can continue further studies. If she does make it into a good university, she has to do a good field like Engineering/Medicine, sports management is probably not even offered. If she does an easier course, she might end up never getting a job. Its not that different for a he by the way.
Many news articles and blogs have blamed India’s lack of Olympic medals on social mobility, corruption and even culture !! I talked about these things myself, but realize that the issue in urban India is perhaps very different. India may do abysmally at the Olympics but it does reasonably well at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth games standing fifth and fourth (in total medals) respectively in competitions involving China, Korea, Japan, UK, Australia and Canada. Much better than Pakistan that has a similar culture and a 160 million people, and also the African countries who are renowned for their athletic prowess. Let me also point out that according to the World Bank, Russia is much more corrupt than India but it does brilliantly at the Olympics (Another corruption index gives Russia 2.3, India 3.5 and Australia 8.6 points).
Its time India’s media and middle classes stop blaming its culture and politicians for every humiliation and failure the country faces, sometimes the issue can just come down to a simple question in front of a parent.